Muntazah, North America set to battle it out at Meydan
The much anticipated battle between Muntazah and North America will be the cynosure of all eyes in the Group 2 $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on Thursday at the Meydan Racecourse.
The two Dubawi-sired dominators - and Dubai's best milers - met once prior in last season's Round 1, with a below-fitness Muntazah finishing well astern a romping North America. Standing at nearly 17 hands, North America towered over his rivals on the track that day, winning by nine lengths and eclipsing both the stakes and 1600m track record with a mark of 1:35.88.
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Minister of Finance, and trained by Doug Watson, a sharper Muntazah would go on to manhandle a similar field by 4¼ lengths in the Firebreak (G3) five weeks later; four weeks prior to smashing North America's aforementioned mark with a 10-length win in Super Saturday's Burj Nahaar (G3) in 1:34.99.
Meanwhile, Satish Seemar-conditioned North America stretched out to win the 1,900m Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2) in facile fashion, but both horses were subsequently past-peak when Muntazah was third in the Godolphin Mile sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City - District One (G2) and North America faded to seventh as second-favourite in the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1).
The $250,000 Singspiel Stakes (G2) race will see a battle between Benbatl and Dream Castle Return. Benbatl may have skipped a Dubai World Cup Carnival in 2019, but the winner of the 2018 Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1) is coming in hot once again in 2020 for top trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "He's doing very well," Bin Suroor said. "He worked very well last Thursday to prepare for this race. It was very strong and a good work. He had a long time off after a hard (2018 season). He's in good form and he is ready to go." I'm happy with him and look forward to running."
Bin Suroor's Al Quoz Stables is off to a fantastic start already and that momentum could maintain, as Dream Castle, winner of last year's Singspiel (when a G3), will look to defend his title, providing a potent one-two punch. The Group 1-winning son of Frankel was off form when venturing to Australia during the autumn, but returns to his favourite course. Additionally, Listed winner and Royal Ascot runner-up Platinum Star makes his sophomore bow as a heavy favourite in the $100,000 Dubai Trophy over 1,200m on turf on Thursday.
The waters are getting deeper for the classic generation, which is evident with Thursday's $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial. The appearance of Scandinavian star 3-year-old Nocentsinkentucky and Godolphin's highly regarded First View will supply plenty of pre-race fireworks, but a pair of well-intended 3-year-olds with UAE form look to make good on a great deal on their connections' confidence.
Nasir Askar's Satish Seemar-trained Commanding lived up to his name last out, winning by five lengths in maiden company over this 1,600m trip on Dec. 5. The son of dirt-friendly sire Camacho out of the First Defense mare Chateau Dauphin has been giving his connections all the right vibes in the interim.
Meanwhile, Sky Racing's Doug Watson-conditioned Far Sky nearly overcame the impossible 16-post over the same 1600m last out on Dec. 19, finishing a game second by three-quarters of a length to front-running Dubai Avenue. The final time of his heat was .79 seconds faster than Commanding's two weeks prior. Additionally, third-place finisher Good Fighter (centre) returned to break his maiden on Saturday. A son of Stay Thirsty and the Belong To Me mare Mine All Mine, Far Sky drew the rail on Thursday.
Watson may also start Sanad Libya, who was third in Commanding's race by 5¼ lengths on debut, but is currently the first reserve and would require a defection.